Episode 20: Taming the Glen
I have been racing now at the club level for three years, mostly in the Northeast and am planning my first trip to Watkins Glen. Can you share your track notes or help me with some general advice for the circuit. I have been told it is fast, fun and fairly dangerous. Please help!
Sure thing, Trent. Watkins Glen is hands down one of my favorite tracks in the world and I’d be happy to help you off on the right foot.
The Glen is one of what I call, “the original three” – referring to the three purpose-built circuits that became synonymous with Formula One Grand Prix racing in North America over the past half century: Mont Tremblant, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (formerly Mosport), and Watkins Glen. All were built before 1964 in the spirit of the fast, flowing circuits of Europe. It is fair to say that these old school tracks challenge a driver’s skill and bravery unlike anything else in modern circuit design. For anyone who truly loves track driving, these circuits are a must-drive.
Here are a few general things to keep in mind:
- Vision. There are many long sweeping corners as well as rapid elevation changes so the more we look ahead and around the better.
- Obey the camber! Many of the corners feature drastically changing camber – we can work with that camber to go faster.
- Proximity. Don’t be afraid to get really close to the wall. While this may seem scary in many of the Glen’s high speed corners, it is actually safer to let the car out than pinch the corner exit and destabilize your car. In short, use every inch of the track.
For many cars, the exit of corner one will determine the speed down the long back straight because corner two and the Uphill Esses are flat out. Therefore, being fast in AND out is very important. The corner itself is fairly straight forward with the clipping point being near the geometrical apex and easy to see. (Just to clarify – all racers often refer to the apex of a corner being where you get closest to the inside, when really we should say the clipping point. Technically speaking the apex is the geometrical midpoint of an arc and our actually clipping point is often after or sometimes before that true mid-point.) Corner one is downhill on the entry, banked by mid-corner and uphill on the exit, and we can use this to our advantage. Turn in a little sooner, and slower but steer more as the front of the car hits the positive camber. I call this progressive rate steering, where we start the turn with one rate of steering input but change it up before the corner is done. We will do this at many corners here.
The clipping point is about half way along the white apex curbing. You want to touch down there but hold the clipping point for about two car lengths. From there allow the car to move over to near the middle of the track as you go up the hill. Looking for and aiming at the flaggers stand is the perfect visual anchor here. We want to approach corner three in the middle of the track because the camber is better there. If we stay to the right as many DE lines are taught, it does give us a better radius into corner three, BUT the road is crowned here and crossing over the crown upsets the car too much. We are better off staying in the positive camber side of the crown. Remember – we are going very, very fast here. Smooth, slow, progressive steering inputs are the order of the day here.
The Uphill Esses (Corners Three and Four)
The clipping point is early, about where the white curbing begins. Do not hit the curb as it will upset the car, just brush it lightly. As you come out of corner three, look at the camber of the road – it’s crowned and you want to cross over the crown with the steering wheel as straight as possible. This shoots you out very close to the blue Armco, and yes this is scary, BUT it is better to unwind the car here than to pinch it right at the top of the crown in the road. It becomes a true test of mind over matter. Trust me, you’re gonna love it! Also keep in mind, by this point the Esses are over. You don’t need any radius for the following right-hander – think of it as a gentle bend. You can enter it from the very edge of track right and be fine.
Brake as late as you dare here. A good rule of thumb is that you should NEED to brake all the way to the first apex curbs (trail braking in). If you aren’t still trying to slow down by this point, brake later next time.
Crash the curbs at the entrance and by this I mean use every single inch of it. As for the rest for curbs at the Bus Stop, I try to use as much as I can before upsetting the car too much. Most cars don’t like very much of the remaining three curbs but the straighter the line, the better.
From the exit of the Bus Stop I like to let the car out to about ¾ to the left of the track. Doing so depends on the car to a degree – typically you don’t want to go out as wide with a bigger, heavier car. Regardless, if you track out to mid, ¾ or full - the main thing is to turn in early with slow hands. The clipping point we are aiming for is about in line with the flagger’s station, but because the road falls away so much we need to start turning in early – but again, SLOW HANDS. Try to be on full power by the clipping point and use every inch of the track on the exit. If you’re really pushing, you can use the exit curb as well. The grass beyond that is fairly smooth but dropping wheels here will cost you a tenth or two, and a new set of underwear. I speak from experience.
Laces of the Boot (Corner Six)
Your work is not done after exiting the Carrousel. KEEP TURING RIGHT. It is important to get over full track right and FULLY PARRALEL nice and early so that you can hit the brakes with a perfectly straight and balanced car. This is a heavy brake zone, so you’ll need to put some leg into the middle pedal here. Again, it is an early turn in with SLOW hands. Most cars get upset by the apex curbing so try not to use too much of it.
Toe of the Boot (Corner Seven)
The toe has a wonderful visual anchor in the big grey concrete patch. As you exit the laces, get full track left and look up. Aim your left front wheel to drive over the right front corner of the patch. This might seem early, but it gets the car into the meat of the banking which in turn allows for a greater minimum speed. LOOK up and LOOK right. Look for the clipping point, which is fairly late but it is normally noticeable from where the yellow paint which lines the perimeter of the circuit is worn away. From here, look ahead to the concrete patch again. This time aim your left front near the left corner of the patch where it ends. From there, look forward to the bubble of asphalt beyond where the white line is painted. You want to use every bit of this bubble from start to finish.
Heel of the Boot (Corner Eight)
This corner is very similar to turn one, with a fairly geometrical apex of a clipping point. It’s downhill on entry (use slow hands), going to big camber on the way out (turn more).
Brake hard and point the car just before the crest of the hill using a VERY small steering input. (Like I said, point the car more than turn the car). Slow hands to a late-ish apex and look up to the exit. Again there is a bubble of asphalt beyond the painted white line and we want to use every inch of this as well as a bit of the exit curb.
The entry is flat but picks up a lot of camber mid-corner. Again, SLOW hands in and don’t be afraid to steer a little more near the clipping point. The clipping point is the part of the apex curb that is flattened out. You would be surprised how much grip is in this corner and how fast it really is. Very few cars needs any braking here – instead it’s a lift off the gas or fully flat. On exit KEEP turning left. We need to get all the way over to the left and fully parallel before braking for corner eleven.
Similar to corner one and the Heel of the Boot in that it’s slightly downhill on entry but very cambered by the apex. Slow hands and steer a little more as the front tires get into the meat of the camber. Use every inch of track on the exit – points for scraping a mirror on the safer barrier!
I realize this is a lot to absorb, so I recommend reading it over then driving the track very slowly looking for the points I’ve mentioned here. Make sure you film every lap with your in-car video. Review the video after your sessions and pause it at each corner and try to identify the visual anchors mentioned here. If you don’t have an in-car video, go to your nearest Best Buy or Wal-Mart and get a GoPro camera – they’re reliable and offer a clear picture. In-car cameras are an essential learning tool, and for a few hundred bucks are one of the best investments one can make towards their driving progress.
Yours in driving,